Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is a Classic? Part 2

Starting where I left off:
One proof that classics contain really exciting stories is that contemporary writers "borrow" ideas from classic works all the time when they're creating new ones. When you see a killer-dinosaur book like Jurassic Park, you can bet that author, Michael Crichton, read, and loved, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost Worldwhen he was a boy. The "Back to the Future" movies might never have been made if filmmaker Bob Zemekis hadn't enjoyed H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Danielle Steele probably wouldn't be writing the kind of romances that can tug at your heart strings if she hadn't read, and cried over, books like Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights when she was younger. And you can be sure that Stephen King learned much of what he knows about terrifying people from the stories of Edgar Allan Poe which scared him when he was a boy.
Another mark of a classic, then, is that it can inspire an entire branch of literature, like Westerns or romances. The mystery novel as we know it wouldn't exist if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn't created his master detective Sherlock Holmes. All of those books in the science fiction section might not be there today if it weren't for the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

If the classics only offered engrossing entertainment, they'd be well worth your time. But they have a lot more to offer.
To begin with, classics are better written than most other books. This may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning. One of the qualities that cause a book to endure decade after decade is that the author put extra care into choosing each word, into creating real, believable characters, into giving them genuine emotions and challenging problems to solve.
You can sense this special attention to the language the minute you begin reading a classic like Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer or Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. The world you're reading about is suddenly vivid and compelling and real, as real as the world you live in every day- and sometimes more so.

It's like the difference between a musician who goes through the motions and one who really knows his stuff, the difference between fat food and fine cuisine. If you're a serious reader, you can very quickly grow tired of sloppy writing, predictable plots, and cheap literary tricks. The classics guarantee great prose as well as great story telling.
If you've ever thought about becoming a writer yourself, as a hobby or even as a career, you can't find a better place to study writing techniques than in the classics. No writer has described the bone chilling cold of an Arctic night more effectively than Jack London. No one brings the perilous life of the sea or the exotic locales of the Far East to life more vividly than Rudyard Kipling.
You can think of the classics as time machines that instantly transport you to faraway times and places at the turn of a page. You can travel with Robert Louis Stevenson aboard the pirate ships of the Caribbean in Kidnapped. Race around the world with a daring gambler in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. Witness London devastated by a ruthless Martian invasion in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.

.......to be continued.......

No comments: